On Friday, as the conference was coming to a close, I got to meet with the busy team at SoftImage including Gareth Morgan, Senior Product Manager over Softimage. Softimage displayed some amazing technologies at the conference including the non-destructive character tools and facial animations using the recently released Face Robot system.
Face Robot Launched
The first show announcement from Softimage was the launch on Face Robot. With this software, you can identify musculature and skeletal points of the face using six simple steps. The software then creates the rigging necessary to deform the face in a realistic manner to create natural, believable emotion. “It’s like adding a jellyfish solver to the face,” stated Gareth.
Believable facial animations has always been one of the toughest problems in computer graphics. The face is incredible in its ability to communicate nuance and subtlety. Facial expressions are a key component of communication and as humans we have a keen sense to know when the emotional facial cues are off. Face Robot breaks through all the difficulty required to enable facial animations using a “soft-tissue” solver that allows the face to be posed.
Gareth noted that “Face Robot puts the power back in the hands of the animator.” He also mentioned that Face Robot is the type of artist-centric tool that the industry needs. CG tools, like Face Robot, are slowly starting to mimic the traditional artistic skills, such as sculpting, making traditional artists feel comfortable with the new technology. This technology will enable games to become more dramatic and thematic in nature.
Face Robot is scheduled to be available in March 2006 in two configurations—Face Robot Designer and Face Robot Animator. The software works with all major 3D applications including 3ds Max and Maya and can be easily integrated into existing production pipelines.
Softimage 5.1 Released
Another announcement made during GDC was the release of Softimage 5.1. The new features of Softimage 5.1 are geared towards helping studios develop content for next-generation titles including Collada 1.4 support and features that enhance asset exchange with other applications.
Other new features include:
Support for and the ability to view real-time shaders including Cg, Collada FX, HLSL, and SAS 1.0.
Over 200 new SDK enhancements that allow even more customization of all aspects of the software.
Support for Face Robot.
The ability to import and export assets to and from 3ds Max and Maya.
Softimage and the Industry
When asked about Softimage’s position in the industry and the recent Autodesk acquisition, Gareth responded that this is a great opportunity for Softimage. They are now 2nd in the industry and have seen explosive growth. Softimage has a newer technology and their investment in redeveloping their core architecture is beginning to pay off. This architecture is more nimble and allows them to turn around amazing revolutionary tools like Face Robot quickly, while Max and Maya are beginning to show their age. In the future, we can continue to expect great things from Softimage.